How Social Media Affects Mental Health
Social media feels like a natural part of our lives, but how does it affect our mental health? We check our phones far more often than we would like to admit. Like blinking or breathing, we may check for likes, comments, and shares without even noticing the frequency or understanding of what that behavior really means.
Ever since the first social media site called Six Degrees, social media’s influence and allure have grown. From a historical perspective, social media is a relatively new phenomenon. This immediate form of communication was literally a long time coming because human beings are social and always seeking ways to connect. We have been looking for ways to stay connected ever since the first postal service in 550 B.C.
According to statistics by the Pew Research Center, 72 percent or roughly seven-out-of-ten Americans use some form of social media. Although Facebook has only been around since 2004, it is the most popular social media site with over 2.45 billion users each month according to the Search Engine Journal.
Are all those “likes” making us like ourselves or each other better or worse? Since the use of social media is relatively new, we do not have much research examining the long-term consequences, but multiple studies suggest a link between excessive social media use and increased depression, anxiety, and social isolation. These feelings can lead to self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
We do know that social media use triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, which makes it naturally addictive, the same way a drug is linked to the reward processing part of the brain. Likes are a reward, and the desire to receive positive feedback and the corresponding dopamine and brain activity keep people posting.
Possible Negative Impacts of Social Media Use
Social media often presents an altered version of reality. Images may be the result of Photoshop or filters that enhance appearance, and even if they aren’t, we are still only viewing a snippet, an idealized version of reality that a person chooses to share.
These images and videos often depict people looking attractive while having a great time in beautiful surroundings. Even if we are aware that the online content isn’t an accurate reflection of the truth, the photos and videos can still inspire feelings of jealously, inadequacy, and dissatisfaction with our own lives.
With the constant barrage of updates and information about everyone we know and even people we don’t know, there is now a very real feeling that there is something better that we might be missing. It’s actually called fear of missing out or FOMO.
Instead of living in the moment and enjoying life, people suffering from FOMO are staring anxiously at the phone and wondering if there is somewhere better to be. The irony is, that feeling does often cause them to miss out because they aren’t present for their own lives.
Depression, isolation, and anxiety can all be exacerbated by social media. Social media will never be a replacement for seeing friends and family in person. Being socially connected in the real-world eases stress and anxiety and even extends our lives, but without actual contact, our mental and emotional health suffers.
Frequent social media use often takes up time and may start to replace seeing your friends and family in real life. The reliance on technology for human connection will put your mental health at risk because it simply can’t replace the impact of contact that is face-to-face.
A few other negatives of social media are the potential for cyberbullying, narcissistic behavior, using it to avoid real social situations and any discomfort social settings may cause, disruption of sleep, being distracted, or using it to avoid underlying issues.
Possible Positive Impacts of Social Media Use
Social media is not all bad. Social media sites allow us to keep up with friends and family when life gets hectic. We can also connect with people who have similar interests or lifestyles in groups online, which can spark our creativity, give us a sense of acceptance, and lead to positive feedback.
For people in isolated areas, social media offers more frequent human connection, even though it is not a replacement for the face-to-face connection we all need.
Social media can improve mental health. There are social media pages and hashtags with positive messages that can inspire people to adopt a healthier lifestyle and attitude. There are support groups for people who are having a difficult time.
Studies found that younger people who were active on social media with their friends were able to be a bit more independent in their day-to-day lives and decision-making. This is likely because they had access to their friends’ activities without having to participate in every activity together.
Social Media and Relationships
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a big factor that social media sparks that negatively affects relationships. Social media can also cause a person to compare their own relationships with the idealized relationships presented online. The real world is very different from the one social media displays as you endlessly scroll.
Too much social media can distract from the relationship. It is very upsetting for a person to feel ignored in favor of a social media site. This can spark feelings of resentment and possibly jealously, depending on what the other person is focused on when using social media.
It is important to do things together and put away the distractions. Also, social media should not be secretive. Be open and communicate. As for the phone, put it down before it causes a frown.
After relationships dissolve, social media use can make it more difficult to get past the breakup. It is best to remove exes to avoid feeling jealous or fixating on what they are doing. Also, removing exes will prevent that previous relationship from causing a disturbance in a new relationship, once you have one.
How You Use it
Social media is a communication tool. Whether it has a positive or negative impact on your mental health really depends on how you use it. While it is fine to use social media to stay connected to friends and family and potentially meet others with similar interests, it will never be an adequate replacement for human contact in real life.
Instead of endlessly scrolling, look up and consider having a conversation. Some social interaction in a public place just might make someone’s day. FOMO is real, but it is more likely a result of us spending too much time on social media and not enough time being social in real life.
Social Media Self-Monitoring
A 2015 Danish study by the Happiness Research Institute found that participants who avoided Facebook for a week reported they were much happier with their lives.
When it comes to social media, think of the different platforms you use and how they make you feel. If some of the sites give you negative feelings like depression or anxiety, it is best to decrease your use of those sites.
Parents are always an example to their children, so parents need to be mindful not to overuse technology or social media. Distracted parenting can lead to children acting out for attention. The constant presence of your phone will also give your child the impression that is normal behavior, which will become a habit that is difficult to break.
Consider using an app to track how much time you spend on social media. It may surprise you. If your usage is more than what you feel it should be, or if it is negatively impacting you emotionally, consider removing some apps from the phone, turning off notifications, or even turning off the phone during certain times of the day or night to be more present.
Think about how social media makes you feel and how you are using it. If it has become a replacement for your real life, it is time to make a change. Reach out to friends and family, try to live in the moment, and the most important thing, look up from your phone.
If you think social media is becoming problematic for you or causing feelings of depression and anxiety, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our counselors here at Jacksonville Center for Counseling.